HANG TIME, Texas — The Rockets can’t begin the actual shopping for another franchise showpiece until July 1, but it’s never too early to start moving out the old furniture to make room.
In a deal that was first reported by @WojYahooNBA, Houston will send center Omer Asik and $1.5 million to the Pelicans for a first-round draft pick in 2015.
While Asik has wanted out ever since last summer when Dwight Howard made his jump to the Rockets. But the move comes now as the team prepares to make pitches to cream of the free agent crop LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
Beginning on Tuesday, when free agents can begin to talk to other teams, Anthony has agreed to meet with the Rockets, Mavericks and Bulls, according to Chris Broussard of ESPN.
The Rockets have long been interested in Anthony, pre-dating his move from Denver to New York in 2011. In order to offer him a maximum amount of $17.9 in the first season of a four-year contract, Houston would still have to trade point guard Jeremy Lin.
The Rockets also plan to make a full-court press on James, who opted out of the last two years of his contract with the Heat in order to become a free agent this summer. The four-time MVP and two-time NBA champion James is certainly at the top of the list of talent that general manager Daryl Morey will pursue to team up with Howard and All-NBA first team guard James Harden.
According to our own John Schuhmann, the trade gives the Rockets $7.9 million of cap space, with non-guaranteed deals for Josh Powell and Omri Casspi and partially guaranteed Robert Covington on the books. If they waive those players and don’t pick up the team option on Troy Daniels, they’re at $9.8 million. If they dump Lin on someone, they’re at $17.7 million. That assumes that Francisco Garcia opts out, they keep Patrick Beverley at his $915,000, and Chandler Parsons is at his $2.875 million qualifying offer until they sign everybody else.
The Pelicans will be getting a solid performer in the middle to play alongside Anthony Davis in a formidable defensive tandem. Asik averaged a double-double of 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds in 2012-13, his only NBA season as a full-time starter.
Asik and Lin were both signed as free agents by the Rockets in July of 2015 for nearly identical three-year, $25 million contracts that were backloaded. The 7-foot center from Turkey will make $15 million this season, but only $8.37 million counts against the salary cap.
The trade cannot be made official until after Thursday’s NBA draft, because the Pelicans owe their 2014 first-round pick to the 76ers and teams are prohibited from trading top picks in back-to-back seasons. The first round pick the Rockets will get from New Orleans is protected through No. 10 in the draft.
A starting front court of Davis, Asik and Ryan Anderson would provide Pelicans coach Monty Williams with both the defense and scoring he needs to lift his team that’s been underachieving and outside of the playoff race in the Western Conference for the past three years. He’s an excellent rim protector and rebounder. It’s a big step for a franchise that has been struggling to carve out an identity and create a level of excitement in New Orleans.
But the Rockets are the ones with their sights set on big things. Much bigger. Step 1 is complete and the race for LeBron and Melo is on.